Will this be the end of clubs?
Will this be the end of clubs?

The latest government guidance has led to more uncertainty for Kent’s sporting teams and clubs, but will it prove to be the final nail in the coffin?

With no live action having taken place for many this year, it’s been a long six months since Boris Johnson announced the initial lockdown on March 23rd.

Fast forward to now and some Kent clubs have yet to kick a ball, play a game or challenge an opponent in 2020.

Take football for example, Gillingham chairman Paul Scally is quoted as saying the club are losing £40,000 per week and without fans set to be able to enter Priestfield for another six months, it’s hard to see a way out for clubs.

Losing money hand over fist, week in, week out and with no significant income to cover their large overheads, clubs like Gillingham are reliant on the Premier League, FA and Football League along with government in providing grants or bail outs.

Without support, clubs are likely to go to the wall in the next six months.

At non league level, the risks seem even higher as clubs rely even more so on people coming through the turnstiles. Without fans on terraces and in stands, it’s hard to see how they can sustain paying players’ wages and maintaining their grounds etc.

Up until last week it looked like we had turned the corner in this global pandemic with trials of fans inside grounds and stadiums. Pictures of socially distanced fans gave rise to the thought that we could all soon be back to what we would regard as normal life.

Tuesday’s announcement seems likely to have quashed that dream and the reality is that we may well have lost a significant number of clubs and teams by the time life ever gets back to normal – whatever normal ends up being!

Which clubs survive, only time will tell. Those that a prudent, have a diversified portfolio, a wealthy benefactor, generous supporters or sponsors, may well weather the storm, but where does that leave those community clubs that rely heavily on volunteers and donations to keep going?

This is my biggest fear. A club is often a lot more than a sporting organisation or team. They are often the heart of a community, the lifeblood of local areas and provide more than just entertainment to many.

They can be company for the lonely, support for the fragile, an outlet for people to vent their frustration, a great place to meet new friends and socialise, the list goes on.

I had a great conversation with someone today who reminded me that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. How true is that right now?

We probably have all taken live sport for granted. I know I certainly have.

Being able to take my daughter to a game of football, cricket, ice hockey, you name it, was a massive part of our weekly plans. Who even plans more than a day ahead anymore?

That’s my biggest fear. I’ve spent the past 46 years watching sport at all levels, from elite to grassroots and I’ve been lucky to have attended some incredible venues, games and events. But what about the next generation?

We could have a whole lost era of sport if we’re not careful.

Who will inspire the next generation if kids can’t go and watch much live sport locally?

When we do finally get through all of this, there will be such a thirst for attending the big events that there is undoubtedly going to be more demand than supply for some considerable time.

I grew up standing on the terraces of Priestfield watching Gillingham play, sitting at the St Lawrence ground enjoying a great afternoon seeing Kent play cricket, watching everything and anything I could, but what about the next generation? When will they ever be allowed back into stadiums?

Football is always the headline grabber at times like this, but it’s the more minority sports that could suffer the most. Take ice hockey for instance, when will fans be allowed back in rinks to watch their sides? To make most clubs financially viable, they can’t operate on anything other than fully open venues with 70% plus capacity. Anything less and it costs too much to run as it’s largely a semi-professional sport.

What about the local squash club, the area badminton team, your friendly local five-a-side walking football team? They all provide something for someone and this latest guidance could spell the end for many.

Providing a Covid secure venue requires a risk assessment longer than my arm and not everyone is able to navigate their way through all the red tape, so it’s sometimes easier to just walk away or wait until all of this is over.

Only a few weeks ago we were given the news that parkrun were looking at returning at the end of October, but that looks less likely by the day.

How can a volunteer run event take place across Kent at a time like this? Even the professional run events are struggling to stay afloat on reduced numbers, staggered start times, socially distancing in place with hand sanitizer at regular intervals. How would parkrun be able to sustain these things without losing the spirit and ethos of what makes it so popular?

I definitely don’t have the answers and at times like this, I don’t think anyone really does.

What I have learnt though is we lose sports, teams and clubs at our peril.

Once they’re gone, they’re gone and the world will be a poorer place without them.